FAI must prove commitment to women’s league

Like much of last season, there was an element of farce to the FAI’s launch of the women’s league yesterday ahead of the first series of games this weekend, writes John Fallon.

The meeting on Sunday of champions Wexford Youths and Shelbourne, the team from whom they claimed the title, seemed an ideal event to promote as a season-opener — had the association not chosen to keep the media out of the launch at Abbotstown.

The excuse provided by the hierarchy, that the event was confined to a photocall because it had been hastily arranged, doesn’t wash.

The original launch, according to a spokesman, was due to coincide with the international team’s training camp at Fota Island until blizzards forced a postponement. The press, however, hadn’t been invited to that gig either.

It’s not as though the national women’s league doesn’t need better exposure.

Back in 2011 when the FAI, backed by funding from Fifa, unfurled their grand concept of a national elite league at senior level, they wanted to have more than the eight teams kicking off over Saturday and Sunday.

Limerick are this year’s new entrants, expanding the league by one team, but eight of the 10 clubs in the men’s top flight are not represented.

Unlike the male underage structure, which compels the teams to field U15, U17, and U19 teams, there is no such obligation to have female sides. Shamrock Rovers withdrew their representatives two years into the brave new venture.

Others have crashed and burned too, including Castlebar whose struggles to field a team during the 2016 campaign led to them pulling out midstream, their expunged results affecting others too.

Geographically, as well, the objective of providing top-class football is failing.

Sketch a line across the map of Ireland from Dublin to Galway and no teams exist in the top half of the country.

It raises valid questions about the success or otherwise of the FAI’s development programmes in the regions and highlights the visible impact of the financial restrictions caused by their ill-fated premium ticket venture.

It has been left to clubs, and their players and staff, for the good-news stories to be created.

Cork City could have followed the decision of Rovers and Castlebar to address heavy defeats by walking away, but their perseverance was rewarded last November when Clare Shine’s winner at Lansdowne Road earned them the FAI Cup.

They have since rubberstamped their merger with the men’s section at City, the second team to lift a trophy in Dublin that day.

Shine, a prodigious talent, was also part of a seminal moment during the last campaign.

She was one of 16 players to embarrass the FAI by publicly hitting out at the substandard treatment of international players.

Those problems were especially acute for the home-based talent like Shine, forced to take unpaid time off from work to represent their country.

Other easily avoidable incidents drew derision over the season.

While the FAI insist their licencing process for all leagues is robust, ensuring facilities meet minimum standards, it was ridiculed in May when Shelbourne were greeted to a pitch in Kilkenny full of holes and muck. The game had to be postponed and Kilkenny’s home venue for the rest of the season was switched out of town to Thomastown.

At least a referee was at The Watershed to make that call. In September, officials were nowhere to be seen for the meeting of UCD Waves and Kilkenny. Amber Barrett, the Irish international who has finished the last two seasons with the Golden Boot, branded the wasted afternoon as a “disgrace”.

Ahead of the weekend action, we can only hope lessons have been learned.

It would have been nice to ask the players at the launch their thoughts on the likelihood of that happening.


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